John Waters Takes on the Art World in San Francisco, Baltimore

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After a career as a filmmaker and author, John Waters is taking on the art world this year with coast to coast exhibits, including a gallery show he curated in San Francisco and a four-month-long show starting in September at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

He’s also receiving an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art and making brief remarks during graduation ceremonies at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on May 16. (Waters was the keynote speaker last year for graduation ceremonies at the Rhode Island School of Design.)

In San Francisco, Waters, who just turned 70, is the curator of a show that presents a twisted take on home remodeling. Entitled “Home Improvements,” it opened April 15 at FraenkelLAB, a new gallery on Market Street, and continues until May 28. It’s the first show for the gallery, a satellite of Fraenkel Gallery on Geary Street in San Francisco.

In Baltimore, Waters will present his 2014 video Kiddie Flamingos in a continuous loop in the Black Box gallery, from September 21 to January 22, 2017. Kiddie Flamingos is Waters’ revision of his 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos, with kids in wigs and suggestions of the original costumes, reading a cleverly sanitized version of the original script. It will be the first local viewing of the show, which has been seen in New York and London.

John Waters with the cast of Kiddie Flamingos.
John Waters in a still from Kiddie Flamingos, his child-friendly version of his cult classic, Pink Flamingos. © John Waters

“Home Improvements” features the work of 13 artists, including Waters himself. All contributed pieces that in some way address remodeling or home repair, with an off-kilter sensibility. There’s a wall mounted toilet paper holder that substitutes silk chiffon for three ply sheets of Charmin. Library shelves filled with books that have the page edges facing outward instead of the spines.  A triptych of orange sponges with surfaces that look like the craters of the moon. A collection of shopping bags saved from trips to the home improvement store.Home Improvements Install View 21

According to the gallery, the works are intended to transform the mundane and pay tribute to ordinary domestic materials, such as shopping bags, a wall mirror, bath towels, and staples. Some reveal unexpected aesthetic pleasure in overlooked fixtures of the home, such as a light switch or a breaker box.

Waters’ contribution is an S & M baby stroller called “Bill’s Stroller, 2014.” It looks like an ordinary stroller from a distance and has ordinary baby stroller wheels. But it features logos from old New York sex clubs on the seat portion and uses part of a black leather harness to strap baby in for the ride.

Photo courtesy the Frankel Gallery.
Photo courtesy of the Fraenkel Gallery.

Home Improvements Install View 14

Waters always rails against the ‘adult baby’ fetish community in his stand-up shows and interviews, so this appears to be his revenge.

The artists, working in a wide range of media, include Martin Creed, Moyra Davey, Vincent Fecteau, Paul Gabrielli, gelitin, Paul Lee, Tony Matelli, Doug Padgett, Karin Sander, Gedi Sibony, Lily van der Stokker, and George Stoll.

Waters describes the exhibition as “a celebration of the low-tech concept of ‘remodeling.’ These twelve artists’ humble but surprisingly imperious paintings, sculptures, photographs, and drawings will hopefully make any serious property owner want to throw caution to the wind, pack up their living space, and start over.”

Kiddie Flamingos is a 74-minute video of a table reading of Waters’ new kid-friendly script, and the kids do their darndest to evoke the performances of Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey and others from Pink Flamingos.

Kiddie Flamingos is actually the second show at the museum this year to feature a work by Waters. One of the current exhibits, “New Arrivals: Maryland Artists,” includes a photographic work by Waters that was added to the museum’s permanent collection as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations.  The New Arrivals show runs through May 8.

Ed Gunts

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